| DistroWatch Weekly
|DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 518, 29 July 2013
Welcome to this year's 30th issue of DistroWatch Weekly! Ubuntu Edge, a unique and innovative device that attempts to combine a mobile phone with a desktop computer into one sexy unit, was unveiled last week. However, its actual development and arrival on the market, scheduled for May 2014, is subject to a successful Internet-era crowd-funding - to the tune of some 32 million US dollars! Not a small sum, but definitely worth a try. Read all about Ubuntu Edge in the News section below. The feature article of this week is a double review of MidnightBSD, a FreeBSD fork that promises better software management, and Razor-qt, a graphical desktop environment that resembles the much-loved KDE 3 of yesteryear. Also in this issue, a Question and Answers section on how to safely mount hard drives that could potentially be infected with Windows malware, an introduction to Kwheezy, a beginner-friendly Debian-based distribution featuring the KDE desktop, and the usual regular sections, including a look at last week's distro releases. Happy reading!
|Feature Story (by Jesse Smith)
MidnightBSD and Razor-qt - examining two projects in the ball pit of open source
Variety is not only the spice of life, it is also one of the greatest strengths of the open source community. Having access to source code and being able to tweak it, build new things with it and even fork it and run off in a completely new direction are all powerful benefits. Sometimes being an open source reviewer is like diving into a ball pit where many of the balls are similar in colour or size, but there are always a few dozen that are shiny or have stripes and they playfully catch the eye. This week I would like to talk briefly about two projects which, while I might not plan to stick with them, did have the ability to catch my eye.
* * * * *
The first project to attract my attention is a fork of the FreeBSD operating system. MidnightBSD was originally forked from the FreeBSD 6.x series and is designed with the idea of making FreeBSD more suitable for desktop use. The MidnightBSD project essentially gives us a FreeBSD base with an easy way to install a graphical desktop environment. We are also told the operating system comes with a friendly graphical front end for package management. The current release of MidnightBSD, version 0.4, borrows heavily from the recent FreeBSD 9.x series. The release notes mention that MidnightBSD 0.4 includes support for ZFS storage pools, the new FreeBSD text installer and file system journaling for UFS. MidnightBSD also comes with a software management system called mports which appears to be a modernized version of the FreeBSD ports collection.
MidnightBSD is available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds for x86 architectures. I opted to download the 32-bit build which is approximately 600MB in size. Booting from the downloaded image gives us the option of running a live environment with a command line or launching the system installer. The MidnightBSD installer is borrowed from the latest FreeBSD release. This installer features a text interface where we are guided through a series of menus. The process involves a lot of steps, but I found it went quickly. We're walked through confirming our keyboard's layout, we're asked which packages we want to install and the installer guides us through partitioning. The partitioning section feels a little crude, people new to BSD may be at a loss as how to manipulate disk slices, but the installer does allow us to take automatically generated defaults and that eases things along nicely. We're also asked to set a password for the administrator account and choose our time zone from a list. We're asked at one point to configure our network card and, for those in doubt of the correct answers, most people will be able to simply take the default settings offered. We have the option, toward the end of the installation process, to create a regular user account and enable network services such as network time sync and secure shell.
The first time we boot MidnightBSD we are brought to a text console where a first-run wizard launches and asks us a couple of "yes or no" questions. The first question is whether we would like to submit statistics to the BSD Stats website. It wasn't clear to me what information, exactly, is transmitted so I skipped this step. The next question is whether we would like to enable the operating system's graphical environment. Since MidnightBSD is targeted at desktop users I opted into the graphical interface. At this point MidnightBSD started downloading packages and this resulted in a lot of errors reading "package fails hash authentication". Eventually the first-run script seemed to get stuck in a loop, attempting to download the same packages over and over and having them all fail to pass their checksums. Terminating this script drops us at a text-based login prompt.
Since, at that point, I didn't have a graphical desktop with which to work, I looked around the system and found MidnightBSD appears to be, for all practical purposes, FreeBSD 9. Without the promised desktop environment and, therefore, no graphical package management, MidnightBSD didn't appear to have any distinguishing features to set it apart from FreeBSD. Which in itself is fine, FreeBSD is a great operating system, but it means that, based on my experience, MidnightBSD doesn't offer any incentives above and beyond those of FreeBSD. I had carried hopes for a while that MidnightBSD's mport package system might hold some benefits, but when I went looking for documentation on mports I found this error page on the MidnightBSD website. Further browsing of the website turned up some social media links, but no support forum. There are mailing lists, but they look to be very low traffic. In short, I feel as though the project is facing some problems and does not appear to have an active user community.
* * * * *
Razor-qt on SparkyLinux 3.0
The other project I decided to look at this week was Razor-qt, the lightweight desktop environment based on the Qt framework. Since Razor-qt and the KDE desktop share the same toolkit underneath the hood we might think of the projects as distant relatives. I tried the Razor-qt desktop, version 0.4, last year and, while there were good points to the desktop at the time, I felt as though the young environment had a ways to go before I could recommend it to others. Most of the pieces were there in the 0.4 version and I liked the concept, but it didn't yet feel complete. Now that the Razor-qt 0.5 series is available I wanted to give the project another try. The SparkyLinux distribution put out a release candidate for their upcoming 3.0 release recently and I noted the distro features the latest version of Razor-qt.
SparkyLinux, for those who haven't tried it, is a project based upon Debian's "Testing" repositories. It is designed to work on both modern and lower-end machines (anything above a Pentium III with 256 MB of RAM should do) and the project features several editions with various desktop environments. One of the SparkyLinux editions comes with Razor-qt 0.5.2 and I opted to download the 64-bit build of this edition. The ISO image for this particular spin of SparkyLinux was 1.34 GB in size.
Booting from the SparkyLinux disc brings us to a desktop that is decorated in shades of grey. The wallpaper is mostly dark with lightning coming out of the corner of the screen. In the upper-right corner of the screen is an analog clock widget and its placement makes it look as though lightning is shooting from the clock. Over on the left side of the display we find icons for launching the system installer, creating a USB image of the distro and a ReadMe file. The ReadMe file is short and provides us with such information as the live environment's login credentials, tips on launching the system installer and comments on adding support for more languages to the operating system. At the bottom of the screen we find the desktop's application menu and task switcher. The Razor-qt desktop is powered by Openbox, a reliable and fast window manager and I found the system to be responsive and attractive. One thing I find I miss when I go from a light window manager back to the larger desktop environments is the ability to right-click on a blank portion of the desktop to access a pop-up version of the application menu. I like that Razor-qt, coupled with Openbox, gives me this quick access to the system's applications.
The distribution does have a system installer, a simple graphical one which calls upon the GParted application to handle disk partitioning. I won't go into much detail here. The graphical installer is not particularly attractive and I suspect it is designed to be used by an experienced audience, but it did get the job done. The installer helped me set up mount points, create a user account and let me select where to install the GRUB boot loader. The process was completed without any problems and I was able to restart the computer and boot directly into my local copy of SparkyLinux. I was brought to a grey, simple graphical login screen. Signing in brought me back to Razor-qt and its lightning wallpaper.
SparkyLinux 3.0 - adding desktop widgets
(full image size: 523kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
The SparkyLinux distribution currently ships with Razor-qt 0.5.2 and this desktop runs using the Qt 4.8 framework. The environment, in a lot of ways, reminds me of LXDE. Razor-qt has the same simple, clean look. Items are mostly laid out in the traditional manner with controls and menus at the bottom of the screen and icons on the desktop. One thing which sets Razor-qt apart from classic desktop systems is the availability of widgets. Razor-qt users have the ability to right-click on the desktop to add widgets, such as a clock or a window that will display the iconified contents of a directory. Right-clicking on these widgets will also allow us to delete them from the desktop. While I was using SparkyLinux there appeared to be only four demo widgets available, but I'm sure there are people out there making and experimenting with more.
Right-clicking on a widget will also give us the ability to see the widget's configuration options. Right-clicking on the desktop also gives us the option to lock or unlock our widgets. Normally the desktop is in the "locked" state which means the widgets are drawn normally and do not move. When we transition to the "unlocked" state the widgets disappear and are replaced with empty boxes (place holders) indicating where the widgets were. We can then move these boxes around to reposition our desktop widgets. Re-locking the desktop brings back the widgets to their normal display mode. The first time I used Razor-qt I felt the nature of the locked and unlocked states (and how to switch between them) wasn't clear. This latest release feels to me to be more intuitive, the transition smoother.
The Razor-qt desktop comes with a nice desktop control centre. From this centre we can access modules which will assist us in changing the desktop's suspend/power settings, the appearance of the desktop, loading new themes and configuring notifications. I found the Razor-qt settings to be nicely laid out and the environment to be flexible. On SparkyLinux the Razor-qt configuration centre gives us administrative modules for managing printers, partitioning local disks and launching the Synaptic package manager.
SparkyLinux 3.0 - Razor-qt's settings panel and application menu
(full image size: 622kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
For the most part I was running SparkyLinux for the opportunity to play with Razor-qt, not to explore the distribution as a whole. Generally I felt SparkyLinux was fairly standard for a modern distribution. It featured the Linux kernel, version 3.9, came with some small apps and the distro uses Network Manager to get on-line. However, there was one interesting feature which stood out and I'm not sure if it is a part of Razor-qt or a design choice of the distribution. Specifically, I'm referring to the operating system's default web browser, QupZilla. The QupZilla browser might be best described as closely resembling the Firefox web browser, but built using the Qt toolkit to provide the user interface. QupZilla comes with the usual features: bookmarks, tabs, flexible preferences and extensions. I found QupZilla came with a feature which prevents Flash content from playing automatically on web pages and it also has AdBlock built in, giving sites a cleaner look. QupZilla uses WebKit, the same technology Chrome uses to display web pages. This, combined with the Firefox-like layout, made QupZilla feel very much like other modern browsers in almost every aspect. The one area where I felt the QupZilla differed was the settings panel. I felt QupZilla's preference panel had a more attractive look when compared next to Firefox and it felt, to me at least, to be easier to navigate.
I played with the distribution on a desktop computer (dual-core 2.8 GHz CPU, 6 GB of RAM, Radeon video card, Realtek network card) and in a VirtualBox virtual machine. In both environments Razor, standing on the shoulders of SparkyLinux, performed well. The system was quick to respond and fast to boot. Sound and networking worked out of the box and the desktop was automatically set to my equipment's full resolution. The operating system remained stable throughout my trail and I encountered no bugs. I did note the distro used more memory than I had expected. Logging into Razor-qt used approximately 230 MB of RAM on my system, which is about the same amount I would expect from an installation running the more fully featured KDE interface.
SparkyLinux 3.0 - Razor-qt's unlocked desktop mode
(full image size: 381kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
While I enjoyed getting a quick tour of SparkyLinux my main reason for downloading the distribution was to see what was going on with Razor-qt. I was happy to find how well the desktop project has progressed in the year and a half since I last tried it. Everything feels a little more polished, a little more complete. The combination of the Razor-qt desktop with the Openbox window manager proved to be a comfortable interface for me. It was responsive, most of the controls and settings felt intuitive. Really, Razor-qt struck me as offering a similar experience to using KDE 4.10 with all the extra features turned off. Take KDE and strip away some of the settings, the file indexing, the visual effects and the cashew button. Then set the KDE application menu to display in classic mode. The result will be approximately what we get from Razor-qt running atop Openbox. The memory footprint was even close to the same in my case. I enjoyed my time with Razor-qt and, for the most part, SparkyLinux as a whole. The distribution was certainly capable and I didn't run into any bugs. The system installer is a little crude and the application menu buries some items under several layers, which makes me think this distro is targeting a more experienced crowd. SparkyLinux, being based on Debian, feels stable and there are many software packages available to us through the Debian repositories.
Razor-qt performed well, it feels polished and flexible. I feel Razor-qt is related to KDE in much the same way LXDE is related to GNOME 2. There is a parallel in that they use the same toolkits, but one is full featured and powerful; the other is light and keeps things simple. At this point I feel as though I can say Razor-qt is ready for the general public, at least for those people who are comfortable with other lean desktop environments such as LXDE and Xfce. I've often heard people say they like Qt and they would like KDE if it weren't for all the options and little distractions. Razor-qt 0.5 is, I suspect, what those people have been waiting for. Razor-qt delivers a calmer interface that invites less configuration while remaining fairly flexible. I found myself to be quite comfortable with it and appreciated that I had a minimum of distractions. I'm hoping we will soon see more distributions offering Razor-qt as a supported option, on equal footing with other desktops like GNOME and KDE.
|Miscellaneous News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
One of the tech buzzwords recently popularised by Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth is the term "convergence". As the difference between desktop and mobile computing becomes less distinct, many believe that the two platforms will eventually "converge" into one universal computing system. The just-announced Ubuntu Edge, an innovative concept combining a mobile phone and a desktop computer in one slim unit, offers a glimpse of the future: "From mobile... to desktop. Yes, it's the full Ubuntu desktop OS used by millions on a daily basis -- and it runs directly from the phone, so you'll be able to move seamlessly from one environment to the other with no file syncing or transfers required. The core OS and applications are fully integrated with their smartphone equivalents, so you can even make and receive calls from the desktop while you work."
Ubuntu Edge remains a concept, however. Canonical has deemed it too risky to invest millions needed to develop and market the device so they turned to "crowd-funding". If 32 million US dollars can be raised by the future users of Ubuntu Edge, in just one month, the idea will become reality. If not, it will be abandoned and the contributions refunded. After the strong initial response when nearly 10% of the total was raised in the first 12 hours, the campaign has seemingly run out of steam - more than a million a day is needed for the remaining 24 days to reach the target. But even if it all fails, it's still an interesting idea and an unusual execution - a risk-free attempt to get a foothold into the market dominated by Google's Android and Apple's iOS, and offer something really innovative and unique. We say, go Ubuntu Edge!
|Question and Answers (by Jesse Smith)
Mounting infected disks
Watching-out-for-bugs asks: I have a computer with a hard drive that has files on it I want to retrieve. I suspect that the disk may possibly be infected with a virus. Is it safe to mount this disk on my Linux system to retrieve the files or do I risk infecting my Linux machine?
DistroWatch answers: The risks of suffering an infection from mounting a drive is pretty slim in the Linux world because most Linux distributions do not try to run files automatically when new media is attached. That means you would probably have to manually run a file on the drive which was infected in order to corrupt your Linux installation. In addition, most malware does not target Linux so if the drive in question was being used by a non-Linux operating system the chance of infection is extremely low.
Still, if you want to be extra careful there are steps you can take to give yourself addition protection. One way to do this is to mark the partition you are attaching to your system as not being executable. This means that even if you would normally be able to run binary files on the drive the operating system will block any attempts to run malware. This lets you browse through files without fear of accidentally running an infected file. An example of mounting a drive without execute permission is as follows, assuming the partition we are mounting is called sdc1:
mount -o noexec /dev/sdc1 /media/mointpoint
Another precaution you can take is mounting the suspect drive from a live CD. Many live CDs do not, by default, have administrative access. This means we can instruct the operating system on the live CD to mount the drive we suspect to be infected while not accessing our local drive that we know to be fine. In this situation, even if the operating system on the live CD somehow becomes infected, it'll be wiped clean with a reboot and our primary operating system is left unharmed.
For the very cautious there is another method. Again it involves using a live CD to work with the suspect drive. However in this final scenario we unplug the drive we know to be good. With our primary operating system removed from the computer entirely the only infection possible from the bad drive will be to the live CD, which will be wiped clean when we reboot. While we are running from the live disc we can perform scans of the infected drive and clean it up prior to using any files we recover. The disk with our primary operating system isn't reattached to our computer until we are certain there is no infection to be found on the suspect drive.
Usually just the first scenario, mounting a drive with noexec enabled, will work. That is the most simple way to go and it will probably be effective. Removing other drives and examining a foreign disk from a live CD is a bit more extreme, but some people like to be extra careful.
|Released Last Week
Simplicity Linux 13.7
David Purse has announced the release of Simplicity Linux 13.7, a new version of the project's Puppy Linux derivative with LXDE as the default desktop environment: "We are proud to announce that Simplicity Linux 13.7 is now available. There are many differences between Simplicity Linux 13.4 and Simplicity Linux 13.7. This is the first version of Simplicity Linux based on LXPup rather than Carolina or Saluki. We have a new, more back-to-basics UI. The Cairo Dock bar has gone and now we're using the standard dock from LXDE. Speaking of LXDE, we are moving from Xfce to LXDE because it is noticeably easier on laptop batteries, but we feel the differences between look and feel are minimal. As laptop users, we thought that anything which gives you a bit more battery life has to be a good thing! We have also put more focus on Gslapt as the package manager." Continue to the release announcement to learn more.
Simplicity Linux 8 - a Puppy-based distribution with LXDE
(full image size: 334kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Kali Linux 1.0.4
Devon Kearns has announced the release of Kali Linux 1.0.4, an updated version of the Debian-based distribution (formerly known as BackTrack Linux) that features an extensive collection of security and forensics tools: "In keeping with our tradition of publishing new releases during the annual Black Hat and DEF CON conferences, we are pleased to announce the availability of Kali Linux 1.0.4. The last few months since the initial release of Kali have seen a large number of changes, upgrades, and improvements in the distribution, all of which are included in version 1.0.4. Thanks to numerous requests from the Kali Linux community on the Kali Bug Tracker, we have added many new tools to Kali's arsenal. Our quest to get Kali Linux running on popular ARM hardware is going strong and our trusted contributor, Offensive Security, has provided new ARM images for the BeagleBone Black, CuBox and Efika MX to our growing collection." Read the release announcement for further details.
Salix OS 14.0.1 "KDE"
George Vlahavas has announced the release of Salix OS 14.0.1 "KDE" edition, an updated build of the project's Slackware-based distribution featuring the KDE 4.8.5 desktop: "Salix KDE 14.0.1 has been released. It is built around KDE 4.8.5 and as always, it is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. One major change since our 13.37 KDE release, that is immediately evident to the user, is that the default browser is now QupZilla, in place of Mozilla Firefox. QupZilla is a Qt-based browser that uses the WebKit rendering engine that is fast, feature-complete and standards-compliant and it fits perfectly inside KDE. The Calligra office suite is also available and has replaced KOffice. Calligra is made up of several applications closely tied to KDE, including a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, a chart and graph creator, a vector graphics tool...." Continue to the release announcement for further details.
Paweł Pijanowski has announced the final release of SparkyLinux 3.0, a Debian-based distribution with a choice of LXDE (default), Enlightenment, Openbox, JWM, MATE and Razor-qt desktop user interfaces: "SparkyLinux 3.0 'Annagerman' is out. SparkyLinux 3.x is built on the 'testing' branch of Debian GNU/Linux. The final release of Sparky 3.0 features: Linux kernel 3.9.8; all packages updated from Debian's testing repositories as of 2013-07-21; minor bug fixes; small improvements on all the desktops; new Sparky3 theme compatible with GNOME 3.8; added extra functionality to the CLI edition (former name 'Core')." Here is the full release announcement with a screenshot.
SparkyLinux 3.0 - the default LXDE desktop
(full image size: 713kB, screen resolution 1280x1024 pixels)
Puppy Linux 5.7 "Precise"
Bary Kauler has announced the release of Puppy Linux 5.7 "Precise" edition, a minimalist and fast distribution featuring the JWM window manager and compatible with Ubuntu 12.04 packages: "This is going to take everyone by surprise. I decided that 5.7beta2 is pretty good, so haven't bothered with an RC. Here is a short announcement. Another pup in the Precise series! This pup comes in two flavours, one for older hardware and/or those on dial-up Internet, the other for those with relatively modern hardware. The 'retro' flavour is an upgrade path for those who have used our 'Wary' Puppy, that targeted older PCs and analog modem dial-up - unlike most other Linux distributions, it continues to support a wide range of analog winmodems. It also has two web browsers, SeaMonkey and Opera, the latter preferred for PCs with less than 256 MB RAM." Read the rest of the release announcement and check out the more technical release notes for further information.
* * * * *
Development, unannounced and minor bug-fix releases
|Upcoming Releases and Announcements
Summary of expected upcoming releases
|DistroWatch.com News (by Ladislav Bodnar)
New distributions added to database|
* * * * *
New distributions added to waiting list
- Eole. Eole is a French Ubuntu-based distribution designed for school servers. The project's website is in French.
* * * * *
DistroWatch database summary
* * * * *
This concludes this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly. The next instalment will be published on Monday, 5 August 2013. To contact the authors please send email to:
- Jesse Smith (feedback, questions and suggestions: distribution reviews, questions and answers, tips and tricks)
- Ladislav Bodnar (feedback, questions, suggestions and corrections: news, donations, distribution submissions, comments)
- Bruce Patterson (feedback and suggestions: podcast edition)
If you've enjoyed this week's issue of DistroWatch Weekly, please consider sending us a tip.
(Tips this week: 0, value: US$0.00)
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|• Issue 703 (2017-03-13): SolydXK 201701, CloudReady, Solus announces new features, KDE Connect sends text messages from desktop, openSUSE's YaST module for Let's Encrypt|
|• Issue 702 (2017-03-06): Fatdog64 Linux, elementary OS bundled with new netbook, Haiku announces new features, security and the size of a distro's development team|
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|• Issue 689 (2016-11-28): openSUSE 42.2, Fedora's upgrade path, plans for Korora 25, transitioning from PC-BSD to TrueOS, Webconverger's reproducible builds|
|• Issue 688 (2016-11-21): Endless OS 3.0.5, KDE neon fixes security hole, FreeBSD's Quarterly Status Report, Rolling release trial #2 concludes|
|• Issue 687 (2016-11-14): NAS4Free 10.3.0.3, Fedora gains MP3 playback, budgie-remix becomes Ubuntu Budgie, Ubuntu flavours compared, Rolling release trial #2|
|• Issue 686 (2016-11-07): FreeBSD 11.0, rolling release trial #2, Debian announces supported architectures, Simplicity switching to antiX base, farewell to Mythbuntu|
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|• Issue 673 (2016-08-03): noop linux and EasyNAS, Debian's GnuPG switch, Fedora "Flock", using "nice"|
|• Issue 672 (2016-08-01): Ubuntu Phone 15.04, Solus embraces rolling release model, interview with Jane Silber, FreeBSD Quarterly Report|
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|• Issue 658 (2016-04-25): Kali Linux 2016.1, elementary OS 0.3.2, Debian elects Project Leader, Fedora 24 feature preview, Nard reaches 1.0|
|• Issue 657 (2016-04-18): Redox, Linux Mint improves update manager, planned Fedora 24 features, Ubuntu 16.04 getting Snappy packages|
|• Issue 656 (2016-04-11): Qubes OS 3.1, Whonix offers bug bounties, Puppy's family tree, setting up disk partitions and running bash on Windows|
|• Issue 655 (2016-04-04): Parsix 8.5, Sabayon's Community repository, Red Hat offers free subscriptions, Ubuntu tablets, command line tips|
|• Issue 654 (2016-03-28): PCLinuxOS 2016.03, Using signatures to create a web of trust, Arch Linux rolls out Pacman update, GuixSD packages GNOME|
|• Full list of all issues|
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